The Camp Nou crowd was on its feet as Barcelona seamlessly cut through Real Madrid’s defence in the closing stages of their intense battle on Sunday night. The Catalan giants were in search of a winning goal, and mouthwatering build-up play from Andres Iniesta and Javier Mascherano tied up unlikely substitute Martin Montoya to provide the decisive blow. Lionel Messi’s delayed reaction after the attempt said it all, as in one sweet strike the 21-year-old rattled Iker Casillas’ crossbar with an exceptional display of technique.
Half an hour into La Blaugrana’s outing with the current Spanish champions, things were not going to plan for Coach Tito Vilanova. Cristiano Ronaldo had already given the visitors the lead with a curling near-post effort, and soon after Dani Alves pulled up with a thigh injury. Montoya replaced the Brazilian international, who could only vent his frustration at the water bottles on the sidelines.
In his second appearance of this La Liga campaign, the right-back was facing the proposition of taking on the mercurial Ronaldo in a make shift backline alongside Mascherano and Adriano. It did not take him long to prove his worth, however, and commentators and pundits alike hastily claimed that Alves was hauled off for ‘tactical reasons’ rather than injury.
“I felt comfortable despite the fact it was a Clasico, I just played my own game,” admitted Montoya in the aftermath of the 2-2 draw with Los Blancos. Completing 90 per cent of his 100 passes on the night and contributing heavily going forward, he was singled out by Vilanova for praise at full-time: “It is never easy to come in like that, but he showed an incredible ability to adapt without even getting a proper warm-up.”
In playing his ‘own game’, the defender has only demonstrated what he has been learning since the age of nine, when he joined the club’s La Masia academy from local side CF Gava. While working his way through the ranks and into the Barcelona B setup, he was already linked with a move abroad, as representing Spanish underage outfits from the age of 16 was beginning to draw attention.
Instead Montoya chose to develop under Luis Enrique with the B team in 2008, as the side gained promotion to the Liga Adelante for the first time in 11 years. He quickly gained a reputation as a solid full-back, and made the transition to the first team in 2011 despite whispers of a switch to Valencia. But his progress was stunted early on as he broke his collarbone and was sidelined for the rest of the season.
The Catalan picked up a League winners’ medal that season nonetheless, and triumphed in Luis Milla’s Under-21s at the European Championships. Impressive performances warranted a call-up for Vicente del Bosque’s senior side for friendlies later that summer, continuing to prove his reliability at the highest level could not be questioned despite his tender age.
Tests on Monday confirmed Alves will face up to three weeks out with a thigh injury, and perhaps the 29-year-old will be even more frustrated that he could find his starting place in the team gone by the time he returns.